Keeper Notes: Animal Sense– Can You Learn It?

I was going to post this to my National Geographic blog and then I stopped and caught myself. “Would this topic be appropriate for that audience?” Perhaps not. This is more appropriate for the zoo professional– rookies and veterans alike.

The point that I’m going to make, I hope, is that animal sense is all about common sense.  And common sense can be learned. Now there will be some critics out there, many of them with common sense and of course, years of experience. Some of them even think they have the best animal sense in the world. A few even believe they are god’s gift to their animal charges.  And then there are those who lead you to believe that they never had a pet of their own at home and are just about to board another train, or should I say train wreck.

The truth is that animal sense is an acquired trait.  You probably have some colleagues who grew up on a farm. My guess is that they have pretty good animal sense. They have a particular intuition.  They seem to have an innate appreciation for the flight distance of the animals in their care and those in their colleagues care. They are likely some of the first keepers done with their daily routines.  And yes, they managed to disinfect the stalls just as is requested on the keeper boards and just as often as you do.

The problem is that what they know comes from exposure and experience that you just can’t read out of a book.  Put them on a subway in Manhattan and see how they respond to urban wildlife.

I became much more husbandry savvy after working on beef cattle stations, dairy farms and sheep ranches through various jobs in animal science and veterinary science programs.  And this was after I was already working as a full-time animal keeper.

Unfortunately, not every rookie zoo keeper has enough time off to spend vacation hours rotating through assignments at the nearest livestock or poultry facility.

The other problem is that managers often permit certain behaviors to perpetuate indefinitely.  The irony of course is that we now train animals in protected contact to perform some amazing tasks for the purposes of management, presentation, and research, but we rarely take the time to help change the behavior of some of our colleagues or subordinates.

It all starts with a willingness to address the problem and the patience to allow for a change in behavior. It comes back to emotional intelligence and people skills.

I’m not sure if the Animal Keepers’ Forum still publishes the column People Skills for Animal People, but I highly recommend it.

More to come…..

Jordan Schaul

Dr. Wendy Walsh- clinical/evolutionary psychologist, CNN correspondent, TV personality

On Zoo Talkin’ Radio w/ Dr. Grey, Dr. Jordan & the Sensational Sandra Dee Robinson

Feburary 28th at 8:PM EST on BLOG TALK RADIO

Dr. Wendy Walsh is a native of Prince Edward Island, Canada. She earned a B.A. in Journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto, and relocated to Los Angeles, California in 1988.

After building a thriving television career that included notoriety as a local news anchor in Los Angeles, a network correspondent for The Weekend Today Show on NBC, and host of the popular magazine show EXTRA, she took a sabbatical to bear two daughters and return to graduate school. She earned both a Master’s Degree and Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at California Graduate Institute in Los Angeles, defending her dissertation in 2006.

The consummate multi-tasker, while studying and raising small children she also authored two relationship books. The successful The Boyfriend Test (2001) and The Girlfriend Test (2003 ) for Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House. She has other books in the works.

Dr. Walsh has appeared in many feature films playing herself including, The Mask, Heat, Cable Guy, Independence Day, Fly Away Home, Superhero Movie, and Leave It To Beaver.

Her charity work is centered on improving the lives of children. In 1992, after the Los Angeles riots, she founded L.A. City Camp, a series of day camps designed to educate and inspire at-risk youth in government housing projects in Watts. She is also a breastfeeding educator and speaks frequently about parent/infant attachment. She is also a founding member of the “Friends of Coeur d’Alene Booster Club” an organization that raises funds for a small Los Angeles public school.

Having recently returned to the United States from a sabbatical in Florence, Italy, Dr. Walsh is unmarried enjoys life with her two daughters, now 5 and 10 in Venice Beach, California.

wendy l walsh

Zoo Peeps’ Favorite Zoo, Aquarium, and Marine Park Logo Contest

Please post the logos or institutional namesakes of your top three logos and we will vote on them and share the news with the winning institutions. We will pick three. You may pick three zoos, a zoo, an aquarium and a marine park, or any combination you prefer.  Please participate even if this is absurd because it just may be……

Zoo Talkin’ Radio Interview with Tom McPhee (Exec. Director, World Animal Awareness Society) Monday (Jan. 24, 2011)

Executive Director and Founder of the World Animal Awareness Society, Tom McPhee is an award winning producer and director of film, TV, and multi-language interactive media. He owns two media companies, Cave Studio and Man Smiling Moving Pictures. Tom served as producer, director and host/character for two animal centric TV shows broadcast across Canada on The Pet Network in 2009. Tom is the Producer & Director of the multi-award-winning documentary An American Opera: The Greatest Pet Rescue Ever! Through the World Animal Awareness Society, Tom scours the world for stories to film at the human/animal intersection. Tom has been on expedition recently filming the animal relief efforts that occurred shortly after the earthquake in Haiti and has been leading the ALL EYES ON THE GULF Expedition chronicling the effects on Life in the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster since early May 2010. You can discover more about Tom and the World Animal Awareness Society at: